Innsbruck delight

I started on the longest phase of my train travel by taking an early morning train from milan to innsbruck. I was travelling with this delightful 85 year great grandmom and she was telling me her story. She was born and brought up in Vienna where she continues to live till now. She was telling me her sons and grandsons all live together in the same house. Now joint families are dying out in India and I was pleasantly surprised to find it alive in europe. My stop soon arrived so I bid her goodbye and pleasant journey for her remaining leg to vienna.

Innsbruck has been an apt choice for two winter olympics, straddled right in between the alps with wonderful mountains looking down on the valley where innsbruck resides.

Once landing in Innsbruck, I set about searching for a place for the night. Apparently most of the hostels are open for reservations from 5-9 pm only, which was pretty inconvenient consider I was hauling a heavy backpack. Eventually I did come across one which was open and a short distance away from the centre which was made to look further away with the steep walks. Dumped my backpack and I headed back to the city center.

The center is pretty quaint, with one of the Hapsburg palaces in the city (of the Vienna fame) and can be covered in about half a day of walking. Headed back to the hostel to freshen up when I met an australian guy sharing the dorm.

Oh isnt it fun meeting the australians just after a test that India won. We were talking about various stuff when I steered the conversation to cricket and wondered if he followed the game – Not at the moment mate was the reply. Well I did let him have a few words on the future of the game and let him take solace that ponting will eventually overtake tendulkar’s record.

I had heard about hiking trails around innsbruck and headed back up the mountain past the alpen zoo. An hour of hiking and came across a clearing where you could see the entire city of Innsbruck in all its glory and one of the most beautiful sights of the trip. If you do enjoy hiking I would recommend staying in innsbruck for another day and hike around the mountains (the trails go on forever).

Eventually headed back down on fading light and feel to sleep early due to exhaustion.

Whya this a happeninga

On my way to como, I decided to give the self service machines a try to avoid standing in line for tickets. When I finally figured out on how to use the machine, I put in 10euros for my trip when the machine suddenly crashed with no sign of my ticket or my money.

Now depriving an indian of his “hard earned money” is a crime and an embarrassing one when its done by a machine. So I set about trying to find the right person to complain to, which is hard enough with the language problem. Tried the police but they seemed clueless on the words coming out of my mouth, so I wandered around till I found a person attending another self service machine. I dragged him back to the offending machine and tried my best to explain the gross injustice that happened, but he shrugged his shoulders and said not his problem, try the ticket office.

As it is I had to book another ticket and as I didnt trust another machine, got it from the ticketing office, after which I tried to explain the problem to him. To my irritation I got the same response saying not his problem and I was supposed to go to another station somewhere else. Now I realize dealing with italian officials is pretty much like dealing with the indian burueacracy with almost no chance of getting anything done, but I wasn’t done without a last stance.

I decided to miss my train to como and stood in the long line at customer service. Figured I probably need to connect to him at a more deeper level so I tried my best italian impression. Now imagine the following scenes with exaggerated shoulder shrugging and gesticulated hand movement. I also figured adding an a or o to every word would pass me off as the orphaned italian child that no one wanted, but italian nonetheless.
Whya thisa happeninga? Whya doa I needa to goto garibaldi (station) whena the machine at centrale (milan central) atea my money? Whya no one helpinga?

I dont know if the wonderful italian accent or his irritation, but he finally got it cleared from his supervisor and gave me a form to send to trenitalia for my money refund. Luckily I was allowed to board the next train to como as well so my gambit of skipping the train wasn’t too monetarily painful.

Its been a week now since, I’ve had the form. I still dont understand what it expects from me (as it is in italian), but the hope still exists that one day before I leave, I will fill the form and miraculously get back my 10 euros. Why all this fight for 10 euros u ask? Well my friends, considering the devaluing dollar, soon I will be able to retire on my 10 euros – Welcome to the life of the rich and famous.

Como again

I decided to take a day trip to Lake Como which is situated right at the border of Italy and Switzerland. If you do have some time to kill, its not bad to spend a few hours. I decided on taking an hour boat ride on the lake. Like America’s five great lakes this is another giant lake, we seriously need to come up with another terminology for lakes of this size. Lake’s are meant to be smaller, something to swim across and not something to drown in while trying to reach half way through.

On the way back, I had some time to kill and was wandering around on the platform when I heard hindi being spoken. Needing no further prodding to find out the source of this familiar language, I came across Ehsaan (a pakistani maintaining a pizza place at Como station) and Sanjay (a textile salesman/representative from calcutta) sharing a few laughs. Now sanjay makes a trip to europe pretty regularly while ehsaan has been in como for a few years and it was nice talking random stuff with the two, including on how to make trips to switzerland without bothering the guards (might be useful when you feel the need to smuggle swiss cheese out)

Skip the Gondola

Venice like Vienna is a wonderful city to walk around. Now the one thing that comes to mind when people think about Venice are the gondola rides. They kinda seem romantic if you are willing to shell out 80-100 euros per hour. Venice might be the city of canals but it has an amazing architecture to be discovered while on walking tours.

You can cover pretty much the entire city in less than a day (be prepared for long walks). Its still a living city so you might end up in someone’s backyard, but the locals seem to ignore tourists for the most part. The high point of the city is piazza san marco and is definitely not to be missed on any visits to venice, however as everyone is heading there early mornings and late evenings are the best times to be at the piazza.

The italian

All my wonders and joys of travelling in second class were rudely extinguished while spending an uncomfortable night on a seat. To pass the time I started talking with frederico an italian kid in my cabin. Its nice meeting the next generation of italians who can speak english and it was even more refreshing that they are very well politically aware, a trait sadly lacking in my american contempories.

Strangely our conversation veered towards Russel Peters the canadian-indian comic. His ‘Indian0 – no Indiano and what the fuck’ sketches seem to be very popular and its amazing how many cultural borders comics can cross – not to mention give us a common talking point.

Hopefully frederico checks out the blog and sends me his email address. Wishing him the best of luck and hopefully he does travel to india sometime.

The case of the curious case

Well I had taken a friend’s camera for my tour and her exact words were do what you want but bring the camera case home, which is strangely possessive about a camera case. So I have been taking extra care of my camera case and obviously not so much about my other things, which ended up on me losing my eurail pass.

This obviously inconvenient loss was noticed while drinking coffee at one of Wien’s oldest kaffehaus. Since with the pass I lost my train ticket to munich, I d0ecided to head direct to the station to try to figure out a way out of wien. Now obviously the counter lady couldn’t help me much (even though I had a confirmed reservation to munich under my name), but there was an overnight train to venice in 15 minutes. Not willing to spend an extra night in Wien, I decided on taking the train to venice and purchased a second class seat on the train.

Losing the pass hasn’t been such a bad deal because I’m really not used to travel in first class luxury. Its time I travel with my folks in the second class. Also its been strangely liberating. So now 1 pass down 1 camera case to go

Singh is King

Wien might be a beautiful city but its pretty confusing on getting around for the first time after you arrive at the city. So I got talking to this australian girl, Kim, and she agreed to take me to the city center.

We took the underground and kim actually showed me how to avoid paying the required fare for the train. This minor act of truancy was exciting as well as depressing that this little girl from australia was the one teaching me and not the other way around.

Anyways soon the topic changed to cricket and we were talking about australia’s current tour to india, when kim remarked how irritating she finds harbhajan singh. Now we all can agree that harbhajan isn’t the most well behaved cricketer around and he definitely has its flaws but then complaining about him to another indian is definitely not the right way forward.

Well sorry on yer mate (assuming this is unisexual), but guess who is primarily responsible for australia losing this test match and going down in the series, hopefully helping india win the border-gavaskar trophy. You dis the turbanator at your own peril.

A full circle

I’ve got this great friend of mine who has these weird notions that things are not over till you complete the entire circle of association. Maybe her words were true as I’ve been meaning to go to Wien for the last 10 years or so.

This sounds strange but my first real notion of train travel was association with the movie ‘before sunrise’. Since watching the movie in my teenage years, I’ve always wanted to travel around europe by train and especially visit vienna.

So no surprise that the first trip I take after landing in mainland europe was the overnight train from milano to wien. Wien was everything that I wanted it to be and a litle bit more. Its baroque buildings and streets are a walker’s paradise and walking through this historic city has been one of the most unique experiences so far.

Now that the circle is complete, its probably time for me to move on to the next stage in life.

Poor Idy

I had taken a couchette from Milano (Milan) to Wien (Vienna) and a few stops from milan, Idy got on the train.

Idy was a Senegalese political refugee and we got talking about his journey and his life. He was curious on my life story as well and we were gladly exchanging notes. Soon our talk changed to Barack Obama. Well no surprise that most if not all of europe wants Obama to win the election and idy was no different. He was curious on what I thought of the election process. I was of the opinion that even though obama was well ahead in the polls and in any other kind of election that would be a significant advantage to the leader this election was different. Given that economic issues will be a big part of the election but when it comes down to voting time, race is going to be the key factor on the next president.

Idy agreed with that opinion and he recounted a few of his stories in italy and how irrespective of the 10 years he has spent in the country he still wont be treated as an equal in terms of work or other aspects of life. He was pretty impressed that race is not an issue in terms of jobs in most parts of the US.

Our conversation covered a whole gamut of topics from mugabe to the state of europe and finally we decided to call it a night so that I could enjoy the next day in Wien while he could visit his brother. Somewhere in the middle of the night we crossed the Austrian border and the austrian authorities came on board to check our documents. While checking idy’s documents, they noticed that he didnt have a passport issued by italy but just a receipt of his applying and his work/stay permit. Idy tried to reason with them that he had taken permission with the italian police before travelling but they refused and ordered him off the train.

The last words idy told me were that, you cant fight them – this is their country. I hope all they did was send idy back to italy while I looked helplessly on

The stranded traveller

After my trip across the atlantic taking from chicago – london – zurich – milan, I was looking around to see what bus to take from milan malpense to central milan. Trying to find someone who talks english is a challenge in milan and I came across another soul having the same problems.

My new friend Atif from islamabad (not of the atif aslam fame as that thought crossed my mind too) had just flown in from paris and was on his way to rome to take in the sights. We took the bus to centrale and got chatting on the way. Apparently atif spent 15 years in chicago before heading back to islamabad which was surprising because he looked more to be in the late 20’s instead of the late 30’s.

My plan was originally to spend the night at my friend’s parents place at milan before planning my itinerary but his offer to join him that night sounded quite tempting. We decided that once in milan central, I’ll go ahead and drop off my bag, freshen up and head back to centrale in a couple of hours to catch the 11.30 train to rome.

However after taking a shower and nice meal, fatigue suddenly hit me and without realizing it, I was done for the night. Hopefully atif had a fun time in rome and didnt wait up for me.